Thursday, June 29, 2017

Tactics of Delay, Part Eleven. Online Serial. Louis Shalako.

Louis Shalako

“Ah, Colonel. We were just wondering.”

“I have my com unit, Captain.”

“Yeah, well, we would have called in an emergency. But our drone is approaching the patrol area.”


“Small units are racing down Highway 17, no resistance. Same for all units. Nothing really new in the way of intelligence, although people are talking about the landing. I guess they think we’re the last ones to hear up here.” Quite frankly, the phones were ringing and everyone was talking about it.

“In normal times, we probably would be.”

Paul nodded.

That was probably true, although there was public radio and a small television station, community news-rags and the like. So far, these were carrying on in as neutral fashion as possible, sticking to regular programming. They were wondering what the future held, and waiting to see what happened. The news had been reported, without too many editorialists leaping onto bandwagons…they were covering their asses and not taking too many risks. 

From their perspective, there was nowhere to run…nowhere to really evacuate. If the locals were sending in letters to the editor, they were being suppressed or deleted. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil…and all the while, desperately trying to be objective.

Perhaps this was only to be expected. The newswriting bots would be programmed to be as cautious and as fact-based as possible. It saved on manpower and avoided accusations of partisanship if nothing else.

Even Shiloh had its news services. Those were skewed in predictable ways as a matter of public policy.

Reading between the lines, the newsies could see her situation just as well as she could—and they weren’t privy to the plan, either, which might have bolstered a bit of confidence in the few humans involved in the process.

A change of masters might very well be in the cards from their perspective, and so why take unnecessary risks?

Just the facts, ma’am.

Short, sweet, and to the point.

“Command Centre. Command Centre. Come in, please.”

“Who’s that?”

“Ah. That’s Corporal Haliwell.”

One of the technical people brought Haliwell up on Captain Aaron’s battle-board.

Captain Aaron had the board, with Dona hovering behind his seat.

“What’s going on, Corporal.”

“Trooper Noya says he has the spaceport in sight. The town is just below the hills, he says another five or ten minutes before we get a look.”

“Roger that. What are we seeing?”

“They’re still unloading. No big concentration of forces. Trucks and buses going back and forth. They’re probably billeting in the city, Colonel.” Small forces at the spaceport could be accommodated in existing buildings there, one or two of which had been positively identified. “There has to be six or seven thousand of them, and that’s a lot of beds to find in a hurry.”

“What’s that?”

The voice wasn’t Haliwell, and Paul and Dona looked at each other.

“What’s what, trooper?”

A red circle appeared on their screen. At such a long distance, whatever was out there was nothing but an indistinct grey smudge in the sky.

“Am turning to starboard to investigate. Over.”


Fascinated, they stared at the board. Shit. The enemy had a drone of their own, and it was headed right this way.

That was quick.

It appeared that Noya was climbing.

“What in the hell.”

“Hmn. He’s trying to get above their cameras…the bugger’s right in the sun, as far as I can make out.” Paul’s eyes strayed to the big board, and the clock.

“Well. Now I am impressed.”

Haliwell was also talking, but not to them.

“All right, boyo…let’s see what they’ve got.”


Being a bit jealous of her story and her cheeseburgers. Captain Aaron had departed the command centre to see if it was true—and if so, to maybe get a burger of his own.

He was just coming back in, balancing a rather floppy paper plate, heavily-laden, when Trooper Green spoke up.

Dona’s eyebrows were just raising at the sight of potato salad and coleslaw—how come she hadn’t seen that?

“Sirs. Er—Colonel. We got action—sort of.” This was from a couple of stations to her left.

Relinquishing the hot-seat, Dona stood up and went to his board as Paul settled into her place.

“Right. What have we got.”

“It’s—it’s unbelievable. But someone claiming to be a General McMurdo wishes to speak with Lieutenant-Colonel Graham.”

“Ah. Hmn.”

“What do we do, Colonel.”

There was a bit of a gagging sound from Paul’s direction, caught on the fly with a mouthful of meat, half-chewed and not wanting to spit it out.

“That, is a very good question.” There was no question of taking the call in the command centre.

There were too many people, too many displays, too many maps, too much detail in the background that might be of use to enemy intelligence analysis.

“I know.” It was Captain Aaron. “We’ll drag in a couple of whiteboards from the conference room down the hall. You can sit right here, and we’ll block everything else out.”

White-boards? That really was low-tech.

“Do it.”

With a couple of spare troops in tow, Paul bolted from the room and down the hall as Dona took the hot-seat again.

There was a time for patience.

There were thumps and voices and then they were back, dragging in the first of the free-standing boards, with arcane sales data, production schedules and other marks scrawled on them. This would be from the most recent staff meeting, presumably.

“Get a couple more.”

“Yes, Colonel.”

Trooper Green was stalling magnificently, his voice rising with a note of contempt.

“She’s very busy, and we don’t take kindly to smart-asses and their goofy little pranks, sonny-boy.”

He listened, the signal audio-only and coming in over the civil phone system.

“Sure, sure. Whatever you say, Bud. You’d better not be wasting our time.” Green winced, getting an earful no doubt. “You guys are a bunch of fucking idiots, incidentally.”

Brain-dead, mouth-brooding bottom-feeders.

Green had quite the mouth on him.

Her face twisted in involuntary humour.

It wasn’t entirely unheard-of in war. Enemies talk to one another. It was an old and time-honoured tradition in some respects. It was why they were there.

“Sure, sure, asshole—bring the God-damned picture up or you can all go fuck yourselves.”

The fact was, they had to have some kind of public phone number for the locals, for everyone from the Mayor on down to communicate. They weren’t in the phone book, not exactly, but someone had obviously given it away.

An insane thought, but before the invasion, the local force probably had been in the book—they had to be. It was the sort of innocent detail that you totally forgot to ask about and somehow, always came back to bite you.

Right in the ass.

 “All right, Trooper. We’ll take it now.”

“Yes, Colonel.”

Another trooper had set a small camera pickup on top of a nearby filing cabinet, zooming in and making sure there was nothing in the background. He had a small monitor set up so she could watch herself.

Behind her, a trooper was just wiping down the last board with a damp cloth, erasing any clues that might have given away their present location. Someone threw a chunk of tape across the company logo. Somerset Fabrications on the top of a board would have been a dead giveaway…they were definitely in the book, and a company website would have their address, maybe even a little map, and a few names and phone numbers for sure.

“Paul. Prepare to evacuate and move to Command Centre Two.” For that, a building further out on the outskirts had already been designated, although it was her impression little had been done to further that part of the plan.

There just weren’t enough people for every little job.

“Roger that, Colonel.” He bolted from the room at a run, needing to find as many warm bodies as possible in as short a time as possible.

Much of their equipment would have to be moved, set up again and checked for bugs…there was just time to freshen up the lipstick and pull the tunic zipper down about as far as she dared.

Checking the monitor, she gave the zipper another tug.

“Are we ready?”

“Yes, Colonel.” He tore his eyes from her cleavage.

She gave him a wink as his face flushed beet-red.

“Put the gentleman on.”

She sat calmly, hands folded in her lap and her posture good. She had the helmet and the flash-goggles on. Someone had propped a weapon against the back of her chair. Her heart was beating a bit faster.

A smile lit up her face as the screen changed.

He had decided to show himself.

“Well, hello, General.”

“Ah, hello, Lieutenant-Colonel Graham. I’m so glad you could find the time to speak with me.”

It was a head-and-shoulders shot. The Unfriendlies weren’t tipping much of a hand either, with blank wood paneling behind the General and no one else in the picture. The telephone-location was blocked, an elementary precaution. So was hers.

“What can I do for you, General?”

“I would ask for your surrender, but I have this funny feeling I would be wasting my time.”

She smiled.

“Anything else, General?”

“This planet means nothing to you. And I would so like to avoid unnecessary bloodshed.”

“We’re under contract to the people of Denebola, and we tend to take that sort of thing very seriously.”

“Your contract is illegal. Our legal counsel is, or will be shortly, taking that up with the Interstellar Court.” The Unfriendlies were under contract to the Mining Worlds, further out on the rim of the galaxy, and acting on their behalf.

No more than she knew from the web.

“Hmn. Very well. You’re certainly within your rights to do that. Naturally, our own counsel will be drawing attention to the fact that your invasion violates the rights of every person and every native of this planet. This in times of clear peace. You have broken the treaty, more than one, without due notice, and for no good reason, I might add.”

“This planet was first colonized by our clients’ ancestors.”

“Sure it was, and they abandoned it for the Rim Worlds just a few years later. They removed themselves, leaving not one person or living creature behind.”

“They have never relinquished their claims to this planet.”

“Simple abandonment is enough to violate any claim, to any planet, celestial body, or works of man in space. The only thing that can’t be claimed is space itself, outside of established economic zones. The law, and many, many treaties, seem clear enough on that.”

She had the sneaking suspicion that this conversation was mostly for the record.

“The Confederation is our enemy, and the Organization is an illegal, Godless entity.”

“I do not agree, General. We’re not all atheists, which you know very well. We’re certainly not nihilists, General. Our people have perfect religious freedom. Some of them are even members of your own Church. That is their right. It goes along with the right of any free person, which so many of your people are not. And just for the record, no one has ever doubted your right to exist. Sir.”

A wan smile crossed that pudgy face, pallid and with two chins hanging over the field-grey uniform collar. The left breast was covered in stars, swords, clusters of oak leaves, Jesus-crosses and red ribbons. This guy was a real somebody.

Possibly even a winner.

 “Repent now, or hellfire shall be yours, Colonel. Please be advised. This is purely a courtesy call. My troops outnumber yours by better than ten to one.”

“Thank you for the information. I shall take note of that.” There was nothing but cool amusement in her voice.

The general flushed, glittering blue eyes staring deeply into hers.

“I’m aware of your service record, of course. You’ve never really been in combat, have you, Colonel Graham? You’ve never commanded troops in the field, not in any great numbers, nor in any field of real danger. As for your teaching ability—I am deeply respectful. I’m sure you do the very, very best you can for your students, some of whom have gone on to relatively noteworthy status. The more especially so, as I, along with others, have read some of your course materials. I refer specifically to ‘Tactics of Delay’, one of your better thought-out theses. Then there’s The Economic Basis of Modern Galactic Warfare, another good one. There was nothing in there that I didn’t agree with, sometimes with a few reservations. Maybe it was the fact that it was written for students, and perhaps didn’t go quite far enough in some respects. But Fabian tactics are nothing new, Colonel. It’s basically just a rehash. And on this little planet, there really aren’t that many places to run, are there? Are you going to burn all the villages? Destroy all their crops? Kill all the livestock? I will leave you with that thought.”

“Well. I am impressed. You’ve really been doing your homework, General McMurdo. I’m flattered, I really am. Not too many people read that thing. Not if they don’t have to. You, sir, get an A for effort.”

He chuckled in spite of himself.

“So, you’re not going to make my job any easier. That will play against you, in the inevitable defeat. Think of your troops, Colonel—and the innocent civilians of this planet. The natives too, with whom we have no quarrel. We’re offering full parole. All we ask is that you turn over all weapons, and give us your written assurance of all Confederation forces vacating this planet ASAP. We will provide immediate transportation, ah, on one of our vessels, under a flag of truce. All hostile activities will cease at once. You have my word on it.

“I’ll take that under advisement, General.”

“As for your present tactical disposition, considering the small size of the forces involved, I compliment you—it’s pretty much what I would have done under any similar circumstances.” The general winked. “You’re such a good girl.”

Off-camera at his end, there was laughter.

The signal was cut on a hand motion from McMurdo.

The glowing light on her own camera pick-up went from red to green just as Captain Aaron stepped around the end of their impromptu little cubicle.

“Well. What do you think of that?” He gave his head a little shake, humour in his eyes.

“Hmn. The nerve of some people’s kids—” Her voice might have been a little louder than necessary.

The ripple of laughter that echoed around the command centre was gratifying. Quite frankly, it had been pretty darned quiet out there, up until now

With luck, they would tell this story, and the word would soon get around.

No surrender.

We’re going to kick their asses.

Oh, yeah—and the Colonel’s all right.

“What do we have on this McMurdo character?” She’d never heard the name, and yet she was usually well up on Unfriendly military affairs.

“Right on it, Colonel.”

“Right. Let’s get this crap out of here.” She was referring to their temporary backdrop.

“And if he calls again, Colonel?”

“To hell with him. Let him sweat.”

“Ah—do you want us to move to Command Two?”

She thought for a second.

“No. But let’s make sure it’s all set up and ready to go.” They had triple redundancy in terms of most of their present set-up.

Setting up a series of command centres had been in the original plan—

“McMurdo was just fishing.” The trooper, waiting to take down the equipment, blushed furiously red. “Sorry.”

She gave him a long look of assessment. He was right, which was interesting.

“Roger that, Trooper.”

(End of part eleven.)


Image One. Confederation Office of Public Communications.
Image Three. Captain Paul Aaron. CPCO.
Image Four. Lieutenant-Colonel Dona Graham, collection of Louis Shalako.
Image Five. Brigadier-General McMurdo, Confederation Intelligence Directorate.
Image Six. CPCO.

Louis has books and stories available on Smashwords, all free for our Big July Blowout.

In a few days or so, they will also all be free on iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and some other fine online retailers.

Other online serials by Louis Shalako:

#99 Easy Street. (Thriller, suspense.) This is the final episode, with links to all the other parts.

Speak Softly My Love, an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery. (Crime, noir.) Links to the rest right at the top, which I don’t do now.

The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue, (Science-fiction, satire) with links as usual.

Thank you for reading.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Tactics of Delay, Part Ten. Online Serial. Louis Shalako.

Louis Shalako

“Ah. Captain Aaron.”

He’d had a solid three and a half hours in the rack and looked to be much refreshed.

Paul had shaved, showered, and kitted himself out in rational fashion.

There was a pistol at the waist, and he’d put his long gun in the rack by the door under his name, labeled there by some anonymous trooper. Anonymous warm bodies did these odd little jobs. People came and went on various errands one must assume had been assigned by somebody somewhere. Unlike her, he’d opted for the forest camouflage pattern, with all the regulation patches and insignia. A careful suppression of individual personality, there was no mistaking who he was—a senior officer, one accustomed to being obeyed, and not taking too many noes for answers. It made sense. To show up in the blacksuit first day on the job would be a little too much. That was reserved for her and her alone, apparently.

Her command appeared to be coming together.

“Good evening, Colonel. Can someone bring me up to speed?”


“Hang on, Paul. Yes?”

“Report from Corporal Haliwell over at the warehouse.”

“Warehouse? What warehouse?”

“That’s the one where they’re assembling the drones. Colonel.”

A map of the town came up and a location was marked. It was in the northeast, far from the airport to the west and the city centre.

“Very well. Put him on.”

Vicky Chan was there, making hand motions.

Dona nodded.

“You’re relieved, Major. Get some sleep.”

Vicky slumped in relief, and turned away without further talk. She headed for the door.

The picture changed and there was Mike.

“Stick tight, Captain. We’ll fill you in as we go along.” There was a half-hour overlap on shift changes for just this reason.

Wheeler was just coming in the door and Dona waved her over.


“Report, Corporal Haliwell.”

“Okay, Colonel. We’ve got one drone assembled and the other two are well underway. Not bad for three or four untrained people, but the manuals were in the crates and we found all the tools we needed. They have a small fleet of trucks and forklifts, and so there’s a repair shop here as well.”


“Trooper Noya is just charging the batteries and testing the systems. He says the speed control is a pain in the ass to set up. He’s been reading the manual. He says he needs to turn on the radio and would like permission to do so.”


Thoughts raced. The drone radio system would have much longer range than their personal, battlefield units. It was a control circuit, dedicated. No voice, no pictures, no sound, although data streamed back and forth…Noya was still an unknown quantity, and therein lay the hesitation.

It was also encrypted and on a secure military frequency. The Unfriendlies might take a while to intercept and identify its very short signal bursts…

“Very well. Tell him to keep it short—no chatter-bugs, okay. Where the hell are you guys, anyways?”

“It’s a little industrial park. The beauty of it is, it’s not all that developed. We’re on the outskirts of town. It’s ten or fifteen hectares and about three buildings. They’ve taken out all the trees and it’s a lot of grass and weeds. There’s a straight road, ten metres wide, five hundred metres long and with low trees at both ends. There are streetlights, but the cables are all underground. Noya says we should have no trouble taking off from here if we want.” If asked, they could shoot out most of the lights for night-time operations.

For the time being, it was better to keep it looking like no one was home and presenting no big changes in the overhead view to any enemy surveillance.

“Okay, I will have to think about that.”

Inwardly, she thanked her predecessor, and that was some real foresight. Sooner or later, she’d have to write some kind of report…it would be best not to leave Colonel Race out. The corporal waited patiently, leaving the ball in her court.

“That’s a good idea though, to use it as a miniature airfield. What’s your impression?”

“We have weapons available. Missiles, smoke, flares. Riot-gas. Anti-personnel bombs. Even a pair of light machine guns. They’re very adaptable. Noya says the thing is big enough to carry a couple of hundred kilos, maybe more. Wingspan about nine metres. There are some mini drop-tanks for it too, we were wondering if the enemy has that—they probably do, right? For the time being, battlefield reconnaissance seems to be a higher priority.” It was best to preserve the drones for as long as possible.

“I agree. What about the other ones?”

“They’re ninety percent assembled. At least now people can see what goes where, and when it comes in the sequence. Noya’s plane had two washers, about three screws and a couple of nuts and bolts left over. He says they miscounted at the factory when they were putting the hardware packages together. It’s as good an answer as any. We should have them up and running in a couple more hours. The thing is, we need to test the first one to make sure we got it right.”

“Can you launch by dawn?”

The odds of the Unfriendlies getting moving any time sooner than that seemed unlikely. With a force of that size, it might even be days.

“I think so. Probably, assuming the thing flies and that we can fly it.” There were control consoles for each machine, presumably in factory condition.

The ground stations and the aircraft each had a transmitter and a receiver. All of that would have to be assembled, tested and fine-tuned. The consoles were also used for training, simulating through VR what a real flying machine might do, and giving the soldiers a bit of experience.

That was Noya’s problem, and Haliwell’s.

“Roger that. Keep us posted—and crack open those missiles.”

The Proctor drones were capable of light missile attack, as well as surveillance, jamming and laser-designation for heavier weapons launched from other systems. They could be controlled by radio, laser, and they also had good autonomous functionality.

“How big is that warehouse? Could we hide something fairly large in there? I’m thinking of vehicles, or maybe even civilian helicopters.”

“Ah—probably. It’s probably three-quarters full in here. We could move some stuff around, make some room. What did you have in mind, Colonel?”

“Nothing yet. It’s just a thought.”

“Yes, Colonel. Oh—oh, wait. We could use a bit of relief, or maybe even just a good meal and some rest.”

“Do what you can, Corporal. We don’t have too many people to spare.”

“All right. We’ll figure something out.”

“Send someone into town and get what you want. Use a civilian van or pickup truck. Get beds, blankets and pillows if you want. The bill will be paid, and that’s all anyone needs to know. If you need cash, we’ll send someone around. Okay? Over.”

“Thank you, Colonel. Over.”


Dona was nearing the end of her short shift, officers working four on and four off until the situation became clearer. Rear echelon troops were working twelves, and forward elements were essentially on duty until relieved, catching food and rest when they could. They would only be able to keep that up for so long, and in an emergency, both main shifts would man the defenses behind the front-line if that term held any real meaning in modern warfare.

“Ah, Captain Herzon.”

“Good morning. Colonel.” It was the middle of the night, the Unfriendlies were still unloading, and their fire-teams were still observing.

Dressed in forest camouflage, he seemed calm and cool as they studied the screens. Inside the vehicle, the helmet was off but he still had the headset. It was all night-vision, ambient light at his end, with its eerie green and black tones, glittering highlights and not much else.

“Our people are about ready to begin the advance again.”

All they were waiting for was the word. They’d laid up for a few hours of darkness, assessing the situation and wondering about that enemy satellite.

“Hmn. The southwest isn’t a problem. My people can use the cover to best advantage, although vehicles are always going to be a problem.”

The roads, on the other hand, were both an advantage and a liability, depending on how they were used.

“Move out as soon as you’re ready. Use the dispersed formation.”

This would eliminate the possibility of them all being taken out at once.

Other than that, it was always going to be a gamble.

And being seen, selectively, was part of the plan.


“Takeoff in one minute.”

The sky was brightening quickly, with low cloud hanging over the hills and the promise of rain imminent.

Dona and Captain Aaron studied the proposed track. There was nothing to suggest. Noya had laid out a beeline course for the patrol station just north of Deneb City, planning to cruise all the way in fuel-saving mode. They had enough credible intelligence, they could ignore the highway for the moment.

“Data feed is good. Cameras and sensors are good. Motor’s good. Batteries are good. Control is good. Throttle up. Rolling.”

Unheard in the control room, the motor revs climbed. Noya released the brakes and she was moving, at first imperceptibly, and then with more authority.

A few seconds passed, virtual needles on the instrument display climbing their circular course.

Noya fiddled with a knob on the control board.

Listening intently, Dona heard the faint buzz of a faux-motor sound, useful as a kind of subconscious feedback to the pilot…at least that way he knew the motor was running and he didn’t have to keep looking at the revs.

Noya was taking off into a bit of a crosswind, but he seemed to be doing okay with a bit of pressure on the foot-pedals and some right rudder…

The nose lifted, the view slewed slightly to the right, and she was airborne.

“Estimated time of arrival on-station…about forty minutes. We could get there faster, but I want to feel her out a bit.”

“Roger that. Carry on, Trooper.”

“Thank you, Colonel.”

“Corporal Haliwell?” Onscreen, he was standing behind Noya’s chair, hand on the man’s shoulder.

“Yes, Colonel.”

“How are those other two machines coming along?”

“Might be another hour or so, Colonel. That’s mostly because we’re going to be hanging missile-racks and some other hard-points on them. First we have to test the systems. Over.”

“Trooper Noya.”


“How does that thing handle?”

“Ah. Well. It’s not the most maneuverable thing in the world. It’s built for stability as much as anything.” His face was intent, the interruption unwelcome but unavoidable.

“Roger that.” He was on radar now.

The track was appearing on the big board in the command centre, curving around and heading to the southwest as the machine climbed out. Noya was ignoring her, concentrating on learning the machine.

“Basically, it almost flies itself. Ah, assuming we have the balance and the trim correct.”

She watched him fiddle with the knobs, and then take his hands off the controls completely.

The machine held its course, speed and altitude pretty well, at least in the first thirty or so seconds. Throttle set, it was gently climbing. He reached down and put in one more click of down-trim on the elevators. Noya reduced power, the machine started coming down again, and he adjusted the elevator trim back up again. He was staying low, the radar-sensors all reading negative.

“All right. There you go, Colonel.” He looked up, into the camera lens.

There was a quick grin.

“I have to admit, I’m kind of impressed.”


“Very well. Carry on, and good work.” It was as good a time as any to shut up.


With Captain Aaron in the hot-seat, Dona took a walk, down the stairs and out through the fabrication shop, now mostly empty. There were a few vehicles, people and weapons. One or two of the vehicles were getting serviced, an oil change and a tune-up by the looks of it going by.

Tools clanked and men and women, backs to her and heads down in the engine, muttered to each other, oblivious to her passage.

They were well in from the doors, several of which were still open. The bright glare of the day was blinding, exacerbating a slight headache that had been developing since awakening.

An unmistakable smell assailed her nostrils and her stomach resonated in sympathy. In a few short hours, she’d completely forgotten what fresh air was.

The place was fairly large, tall walls of blank, beige metal siding with dark brown trim, and a puff of blue came from around the far, southeastern corner.

This was worth investigating.

Turning the corner, she stopped dead.


“Hey, it’s Colonel Graham. Hey, Colonel, want a cheeseburger?”

Her mouth closed then opened again. The kid had three big barbecues all lined up in a row, all of them going. There was a row of coolers, small picnic tents in case of rain. There was another trooper, looking sheepish in a genuine chef’s apron and tall white hat.

The troops had taken the precaution of donning grubby civilian coveralls…the boots blended in fairly well, and there were no weapons visible. The possibility, or probability, of an enemy satellite coloured every thought.

The thing just had to be up there.

“Sure. Why not.” The truth was, she was ravenous. “Well. It looks like you people are doing all right.”

“Ah, yes, Colonel.” A young man, not the least bit intimidated, was opening up bags of buns and putting them on the rear upper rack for toasting.

There were a dozen and a half meat patties on each grille, most looking close to being done.

There were a few picnic tables and shade trees, now mostly bare in the branches, where company employees gathered during better times.

The troops had paper plates, plastic cutlery, condiments, cheese slices and a big bowl of chopped onions. Tomatoes and lettuce! Holy. A company pickup came up from the far side and halted.

Doors slammed, more people were arriving, bearing gifts and booty in the ubiquitous paper sacks favoured by Denebians.

“Well. Not exactly messing about, eh?”

“No, Ma’am.” There was a quick ripple of laughter from those who caught it.

Someone proffered a colourful paper plate and the young man took it.

“Here, Colonel, take two, they’re not very big.” It was a lie, but the grin made up for it—

“Ah, thank you. This looks good.”

“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it myself, ma’am. Come on people, don’t be shy. Grab your plates and get in line. What’s the matter, you ain’t never seen a colonel before?”

With a quiet snicker, Dona moved over and grabbed a seat on the end of a picnic table, framed in two-by-fours since time immemorial and stained a deep, rusty red.

A young trooper, freckle-faced and tow-headed, came along, balancing a plate and pressed-paper bowl of chips and a cold can of grape soda. There weren’t too many empty spaces.

She nodded, indicating a seat.

With a blush and a quick glance around, he sat across from her, head down. There was a jerk and he began to rise.

“Would you like a drink, Colonel?” The pale blues eyes could barely meet hers, and that face was growing redder by the second.

“Why, yes, thank you.”

“Ah—what kind you want?” He was from Kessel, going by the accent, a bit of a cross between Dutch and something else.

If he was a day over eighteen, she would have been very much surprised.

“A grape soda would be lovely, trooper.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

He was gone again.

The poor kid was so young, she was old enough to be his mother. Assuming one had started young—popping out them babies at seventeen or eighteen like a proper woman should.

The burger was a bit pink in the middle, but it wouldn’t kill her and this was a good opportunity for them get a look at her. A little salt might have helped.

Watching as he plunged into the small crowd, he elbowed his way to the cooler. She liked that calm, cool bit of aggression, which might have been what led him to enlist in the first place.

The Colonel wants a pop, and you guys had better get out of my way…

It struck Dona that this must be part of her mobile reserve force.

(End of excerpt.)


Image one. Confederation Public Communications Office.

Image two. Anakonda

Image three. CPCO

Image four. CPCO

Image five. Denebloa-Seven Defense Force

Previous Episodes.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six.
Part Seven.
Part Eight.
Part Nine.

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